Sunday, August 3, 2008

Survival Skills


Although the time I spend in the woods rarely takes me far from home or far from the main trail, I am fascinated by the art of outdoor survival. Bear Grylls in Man vs. Wild and Les Stroud of Survivorman rank among my favorite TV personalities. I have probably watched most of the episodes by now.

Some may think the skills of outdoor survival benefit only those in extreme situations, and their applicability to everyday life is limited. But I beg to differ. There is a lot to general survival that can be carried over into normal life, and life as a Christian in an evil world.

Recently I picked up the August copy of National Geographic's Adventure magazine, lured by the lead article: "How to Survive (Almost) Anything." What was particularly interesting was that the article was not so much about outdoor skills, as such, but about the psychological aspect of survival. Laurence Gonzales, the author, noted that "After more than three decades of analyzing who lives, who dies, and why, I realized that character, emotion, personality, styles of thinking, and ways of viewing the world had more to do with how well people cope with adversity than any type of equipment or training."

Some of the disciplines of thinking include the following:
--Develop the capacity to break down the event you are faced with into small manageable tasks. Forcing the brain to think sequentially at times of crisis helps to quiet dangerous emotions.
--Learn to recognize your tendency to see things not as they are, but how you wish them to be. Gonzales notes that denial plays a large role in wilderness accidents. So too with life in an evil, sinful world. We fall into the trap of endless frustration when we live in constant denial.
--Think positive. Now I'm not going off on a "Robert-Schuller-power-of-positive-thinking" thing here. According to the research of Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, "individuals with a 'growth mindset' - those who are not discouraged in the face of a challenge, who think positively, and who are not afraid to make or admit mistakes - are able to learn and adjust faster and more easily overcome obstacles."
--Don't celebrate the summit. Gonzales says that climbers learn this the hard way. "Statistically speaking, most mountaineering accidents happen on the descent. Celebrating at the halfway point encourages you to let down your guard when you''re already tired and stressed." Good advice for life in general. We let our guard down at the wrong times too often.
--When facing a hazard, always ask: What is the most I'm willing to pay for it? What is the reward I'm seeking? Too often when we are invested in a goal we become less willing to turn back, even when the risk outweighs the reward. Many times in the ministry I've applied this under the similar principle of "picking your battles," or as I like to put it - What hill are you willing to die on?
--Know Plan B. Always have a backup plan.
--Help others. "In a survival situation, tending to others transforms you from a victim into a rescuer and improves your chances."
--Surrender, but don't give up. "A good survivor says: 'I may die. I'll probably die. But I'm going to keep going anyway.'"

Two other survival models that come from manuals on survival may also prove helpful:
S.T.O.P. = Sit - Think - Observe - Plan. Too often we rush into decisions that are rash and half-baked. Those who survive resist the temptation to panic.

This one comes from the U.S. Army's Survival Manual and is based on the word survival broken down into an acronym:
-Size up the situation.
-Undue haste makes waste.
-Remember where you are (This one is related to the one on acting like the natives. Remember that you are not in friendly territory.)
-Vanquish fear and panic.
-Improvise
-Value living.
-Act like the natives.
-Learn basic skills.

Now not all of these may be as applicable in our everyday situations, but some are. I have seen in the ministry too often people who leave the church and ministry defeated, beat up, and embittered. Their bridges are burned, their families are fractured, their relationships in shambles. Life in the sinful world is in many ways a survival situation. Even Paul encouraged the Ephesians to adopt the "armor" Christ. Let us, as Jesus said, we "wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." Survival is not a bad word. It is just the art of making it in the face of danger and suffering.

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